NFL owners approve massive overhaul of kickoff rules

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NFL team owners on Tuesday decided to revive the kickoff and take a page out of the XFL’s book in its overhaul of the special teams play.

For the basic kickoff, the ball would be kicked from the 35-yard line with 10 other members of special teams lined up at the opposing 40-yard line. Five players will be lined up on each side of the field.


Arlington Renegades kick off

The Dallas Renegades’ Tre Watson, second from right, lines up for a kickoff during the XFL game against the Houston Roughnecks at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on March 1, 2020. (Andrew Hancock/XFL via Getty Images)

The return team will have at least nine blocks lined up in the so-called “set up zone” between the 30- and 35-yard line. At least seven of those players will be touching the 35-yard line. Two returners will be allowed inside their own 20-yard line.

Only the kicker and two returners would be allowed to move until either the ball hits the ground or is touched by a returner inside the 20-yard line. A kick that reaches the end zone in the air can either be returned or the returning team could opt for a touchback, in which the team will receive the ball at the 30-yard line. If the ball goes out of the end zone, it will result in a touchback at the 30.

If a ball hits a returner or the ground before the end zone and it goes into the end zone, a touchback would be at the 20-yard line or the kick could be returned.

Los Angeles Wildcats kick off

Jordan Smallwood, right, of the Los Angeles Wildcats lines up for a kickoff during an XFL game against the Tampa Bay Vipers at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, on March 8, 2020. (John McCoy/Getty Images)


“There was a little fear of the unknown,” NFL Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay said. “I think the optics are definitely the most drastic (rule change) we’ve seen. The thing that gives us all the comfort is we have the tape, we’ve seen it. We can show you the plays and you can see how this can play out.”

A similar kickoff style had been utilized in the rebooted version of the XFL. 

The rule needed 24 votes from the 32 owners to pass. McKay said it received 29.

“We feel this is a great day for the NFL,” New Orleans Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said.

Rizzi had a helping hand in creating the rule.

Darren Rizzi in 2019

New Orleans Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, right, talks with strong safety Vonn Bell ahead of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles on Sept. 15, 2019. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)


The new kickoff rules will undergo a trial in the 2024 season and will be subject to renewal for 2025.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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